What I want from church: the Jesus of the Gospels

Jesus – The Prince of Peace (Akiane Kramarik)

I find it ironic that in the midst of the conversation about the undervalued and misunderstood role of women in the church, the church is often still characterized by preaching a message which is packaged in a more “female” way, and thus undervalues and misunderstands the call of both men and women to discipleship. What do I mean by this?
Why “female”, and why in inverted commas?

Our evangelism is characterized by a presentation of our felt needs: we are sinners in need of a Savior, guilty ones in need of pardon, lost ones in need of a Shepherd. The gospel is marketed towards our emotions. Our worship songs sometimes sing declarations of God’s majesty, but can also often tend towards the “Jesus is my boyfriend” lyrics, calling for us to declare “I’m so in love with you” “in this intimate place” – right in the middle of our corporate worship services. These refrains are uncomfortable for me, but all the more awkward for my 6’2″ husband who won’t even whisper “I love you” on the phone when he’s at work. Our ministries appeal for service help in the more “feminine” categories: welcoming, working in the nursery, teaching children’s church, providing snacks. Hospitality, children and food are not traditionally the areas where men sign up in their droves.

Church may be a place where (for many) there is a “masculine feel” in leadership, but I find the message and ministry of the church often have a distinctly feminine feel. If you ain’t the preacher or an elder, the opportunities for men are limited. Of course, my husband can change a diaper with the best of them, but in some nurseries men are not permitted to serve, and the bevy of faithful bible teachers who serve in children’s ministry remain predominantly female.

I wonder, though, if the feminine “feel” of our ministries doesn’t take its cue from the felt-needs-based way in which we pitch our message. Jesus is a comforter, a healer, a Savior. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, the suffering Servant, the loving rescuer.  That Jesus rightfully and perfectly holds all these titles is proof that those nurturing qualities do not belong exclusively to the female domain. Jesus IS the epitome of love, of care, of welcome.

However, as a woman who is a disciple myself, as a woman with a husband who wants to serve with the particular gifts God has given him, and as a woman who is raising sons and daughters: what I want from church is this – a robust preaching of the Jesus of the Gospels.

I want to hear about the Jesus who demanded loyalty, who commanded authority from storms, sinners and satanic forces, who said vexing and frustrating and wild things. I want to hear preaching which is not just faithful to His words but to His TONE: of comfort but also of rebuke, of welcome but also of warning. I want to hear His dares, His call to come and die, His challenge to make hard choices. I want the Jesus of the gospels who does not just meet our needs, but who calls us to bold and courageous adventure, to self-sacrifice, to taking risks. I want the Jesus who promises huge rewards for huge sacrifices, who embraces fiesty Peter and wayward Mary and touchy-feely John.

I want the Jesus who welcomed the little children, but also the Jesus with eyes like a flame of fire, with feet of burnished bronze and a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. Whatever that wild imagery means, I want to grapple with it. I want the Jesus who inspires my awe and calls forth my worship: a gospel from The Gospels. That’s the Jesus I want. That’s the Jesus I need: the one who is worthy of the honor, adoration and allegiance of men and women alike.

A few years back, Preston Yancey invited women to write guest posts on what they wanted from church. This was my post which ran on his blog. A reader recently asked me if I could help her find that piece, and it seems to have disappeared from the internet so I’m publishing it again here. And, just to say, since that time I’ve read Leslie Leyland Fields’ book Crossing the Waters, which is about as robust a dive into the wild, tender, authoritative, awesome Jesus of the gospels as I’ve ever come across (you can read an excerpt here). And it’s written by a woman 😉 

What I Want More Than an End to Porn

A friend told me recently about a kid in third grade who was having behavioral troubles: saying and doing weird stuff, relating oddly to his peers. A little sleuth work from adults who love him revealed why: he’d been exposed to—and nearly devoured by—porn on his phone. He is eight years old.

EIGHT.

This story was shocking because of the age of the person involved, but sadly not because of the content. More and more I hear from pastors and friends and wives-of-husbands and mothers-of-teens about the soul-destroying , imagination-crushing, joy-sapping and trust-smashing effects of pornography. In their homes. Classrooms. Churches.

And, more recently, I’ve had young men (and women, because this is not just a men’s issue) tearfully confess to me how they feel like they’re drowning in this addiction. They know they shouldn’t, but they just don’t know how to stop. They can’t unsee what they’ve seen, and somewhere deep inside them there’s an insatiable visceral growl to see more, and more, and more.

I feel their despair and some of their hopelessness: addictions are so hard to break. Will they ever be able to have healthy sex lives? Is it really that bad? If they’re Christians, will God forgive them? Will they ever be able to go to sleep and not be assaulted by mental images that tantalize and torment them?

Of course, there’s all the research out there that says STOP, JUST STOP using porn. It’s bad for you: it’s rewiring your brain, wrecking adolescentsdestroying your capacity for intimacy in relationships, underpinning human trafficking, and more. Heck, even manly man magazine GQ has a list of reasons why you should stop watching porn, including that it declines arousal rates, increases rates of erectile dysfunction, and leads to all-round lower energy and productivity rates.

Stopping such high-sensory-feedback, addictive habits is notoriously difficult, particularly when there’s the cloak of shame that makes community support and encouragement (often the bedrock of any addiction recovery plan) all the more difficult. But the good advice and necessary steps to stopping remain important and true:

  • find a buddy/community who can help you identify when you feel weakest/most likely to indulge.
  • take practical steps to make access more difficult for you: alcoholics purge their homes of alcohol. Porn addicts  need to get their screens the heck out of their bedrooms and enclosed spaces. Put your phone and laptop in the living room. Keep the office door open. Install software that flags porn and give someone else the passwords to check it.
  • Look for the encouragement from people who’ve walked this road before you, whether in person or online. There are stories of people who’ve come out on the other side. These are important for the wisdom they give as well as for cultivating hope. We *need* to hear stories of people who will say “I used to have these images in my mind ALL the time, but it’s been a year and I’m not so haunted anymore. It gets better.”
  • Celebrate little victories. A year without porn doesn’t happen until you’ve had a day, two days, three days, a week without it. Each of these is worth celebrating.

But the more I listen and read and pray over this situation, the more I realize that I want more for people than for them to stop using pornYes, I want them to be free of the entrapment and shame and damage that it does – but I want more for them than freedom. Just like I want more for a caged animal than for it to be let out of its cage: I want to see it run free in its habitat. I want to see it flourishing in the areas it wasn’t able to before.

This is what I want for a generation trapped in porn addiction: I want them to be free, but I want more:

  • I want for you to have a network of healthy, rich, rewarding relationships with men and women of different ages. I want you to be able to laugh, work, partner, play, and grow with men and women in friendship and companionship, without it being weird or erotic. I want for you, young men, to have female FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I want for you, young women, to have male FRIENDS you enjoy and admire and respect. I don’t want you to be afraid of your own psyche or taunted imagination: I want you to be able to share a story or a project or a hug or whatever with freedom and joy with men or women around you.
  • I want you to kindle your creative imagination: to use your time and energy to devote to something you love and can do well. Hours of addiction, particularly addiction which rewires our brain with (terrible!) narrative plots, kill our imagination. I want you to invent something, build something, write something, chase after an ambition, run a 10k race, take up rock climbing, adopt a puppy and train it to do amazing tricks. Whatever. I want to see you experience joy and fulfillment in something you put your energy into.
  • I want you to experience your sexuality – your maleness or femaleness – as something good, beautiful, and true – not terrifying or debilitating or depraved. We are not androgynous personalities, we are male and female in all our relationships and endeavors, and I want you to know that being a woman is good and being a man is good and to think and pray and explore what that means. Our sex-crazed society has eroticized all of our gendered conversations and I want us to reclaim that good and holy ground: what does it mean to be a BROTHER and not just a sibling? What does it mean to be a DAUGHTER and not just a child? How is it unique that you are a GUY-friend or a GIRL-friend to your community? How do we experience being sons and daughters of God, and brothers and sisters in the church?
  • I want you to know the powerful and healing good of non-sexual, physical touch. Greet one another with a holy kiss, the Apostle said; and Jesus—while totally able to heal with a word—repeatedly TOUCHED people in his dealings with them. I want you to be able to give and receive hugs, handshakes, and the laying on of hands in prayer in life-affirming ways.
  • I want you to know, both in conviction and hopefully one day in experience, the richness that married sex can bring. It’s so much better, so much more rewarding, so vastly different from the sex that is peddled online. I want you to know that it’s possible and doable, even for broken people. I know, because I’m one of them.

Thinking through this list gives me courage, though. Because while there’s not a lot I can do to help people STOP using porn, there’s a lot I can do to help be part of a redeeming and healthy community of men and women. I can invite men and women over and be a healthy female friend to them. I can ask questions about people’s interests and hobbies and encourage them in them in creativity: attend that art exhibition, cheer them on in their first race, post a picture of their cool art on instagram. I can notice and affirm healthy relationships where I see them – for someone who’s internally feeling that they are not a safe or worthwhile person to be in a relationship with the opposite sex because of their internal shame struggle with porn, perhaps it could be life giving to have someone else affirm: “you were a good friend to her when you said/did x,y,z.” And, of course, we can be healthy touchers. I’m a believer in hugs and handshakes and words of affirmation. And, as readers of this blog know, I’m a believer in sharing hopeful, redemptive stories about marriage and sex.

There’s a battle going on for the hearts, minds, and imaginations of this generation. I can’t be the 1am gatekeeper or take down the porn industry; but this much I can do:

I can pray.

I can encourage.

And I can help be part of the forgiven and flourishing community of women and men that God intended for us, and keep inviting people to experience True Life there.

This much, I can do.

 

 

On The Pain of Going to Church and How Community Orchestra Helped

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It was hard to be in church yesterday.

Trump won the US presidential election, and it is no secret to readers of this blog that I was sad about that (although I will respect him and pray for his government). But I was sadder still that pollsters said more than 80% of evangelical Christians voted for him, and so it was hard to go to worship in an American evangelical church on Sunday morning. With a US flag up front. Even though the prayer was tender, and the sermon spoke so directly and kindly about loving our Muslim neighbors. It was hard to be there.

I was sad about how divided the church is.

I was sad about how much damage we’ve done to each other and the witness of the Gospel in the world by presuming to speak for God with “endorsements as Christians.”

I was sad about what felt like a win for fear and divisiveness, when the church is supposed to be about mercy, radical welcome, the kingdom of God, and love.

hate feeling this way. I feel a bone-deep grief for the church and our community, and I’m wrestling with my own attitudes and judgments towards other believers who are just as loved by God but who seem to come to such different conclusions about life. “What a mess we are. What a mess I am,” I wailed as I drove alone in my car yesterday afternoon. “What do you think of this, God?” I challenged.

He didn’t say anything.

I had to cut my prayer rant short and find parking: I’d arrived at the community hall where a local chamber orchestra was giving a recital. I brushed the tears off my face and slipped into the back row. They had just started the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th: a well-known and well-loved piece if ever there was one.

And friends, it was…. how shall I put this? It was…. not the best rendition of Beethoven I’ve ever heard. I confess I winced more than once in the first few minutes, particularly when the cellos sounded discordant (I’m not sure if that’s because the strings section was weaker or because I am particularly aware of cellos since it’s the only orchestra instrument I’ve ever played.)

But it wasn’t long before my wincing was replaced by more tears as God gently walked me through a series of thoughts:

“This doesn’t sound very good, but I couldn’t play any better than this.”

“The skill level of each of these individuals is pretty high, but getting people to play music together is so much harder than playing alone.”

“A player’s individual weaknesses are sometimes disguised by the sound of the group, but each person’s weakness also lowers the overall quality of sound.”

“And when they’re not listening to each other or the conductor, it sounds particularly messy.”

And then,

“Each one of these musicians knows how this piece is supposed to sound. And each of them knows that it doesn’t sound like they wish it did. Perhaps they’re tempted to quit because they don’t want to be a part of something that sounds so awkward. And yet they keep playing. It doesn’t sound as it should but it’s better than it did when they first started rehearsing. And so, they keep playing, and doing their best. Measure by measure. Movement by movement.

“If the cellists were to realize they were the weakest in the group and simply stopped playing, the whole thing would fall apart. All the parts matter. Rather like 1 Corinthians 12. Who are we to honor one part above another, or say to any one else “I don’t need you?”

“And, still, they are making music. Listen, that part with the pizzicato was lovely. Listen, your heart beat faster in that section. Listen, awkward as it is at times, they are making music together and look: it is finished, and you are clapping, and you mean it.”

God showed me a glimpse of the church as his little community orchestra, filled with faithful-and-far-from-perfect musicians. Each person with their skills. Each person with their weaknesses. All of us letting the others down at times, and yet all of us soldiering on together at the conductor’s urging. Sometimes the combined sound makes us wince, but what shall we do? We’re not where we should be yet, but God knows: we have to keep playing.

So I’ll go back to church on Sunday, and I will focus my efforts on playing as faithfully as I can and keeping my eyes trained on the Great Conductor. We all will. And one day, we will look back, and we will have muddled through and made music together, and we will be glad.

A Prayer for Election Day

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We were apprehensive about that election in 1994: the first democratic vote in South Africa’s history. There had been so much bloodshed leading up to that point, and I was just one of a throng of believers who prayed fervently as people cast their ballots. More often than not, I found myself praying 1 Timothy 2:1-6: for a government that would allow us to lead peaceful and quiet lives, so that the gentle work of God drawing people to know him could continue.

Today is election day in the USA, and again I am one of a throng of believers praying. This time, these are the words I keep finding myself praying:

Our Father, who is in heaven,

Hallowed be your name.

Your Kingdom Come,

Your Will be Done –

– on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins. Even as we forgive those who’ve sinned against us.

Lead us not into temptation,

Deliver us from Evil.

For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are Yours.

Now, and Forevermore.

Amen.

The Ministry of The Happy Chicken

Not long ago, I met with a vivacious young woman who is just entering into vocational ministry. We shared parts of our stories as the ice clinked encouragingly in our lemonade glasses. Towards the end of our time together—which had started out with the awkwardness of strangers but then blended into story-telling and a host of “me too” moments—she seemed to remember herself and why she was here and, squaring her shoulders and getting back into “ministry-mode”, she asked me how I’d seen God at work through me recently.

It wasn’t so much the wording of the question as the timing and the tone of it, but I laughed (I can be rude that way). I told her that it had been a long time since I felt like I needed to give an accounting for my ministry. There was a time when I sat down at a computer and labored over a monthly report back to those who were supporting me financially and in prayer, and while I know none of them expected a graph chart with numbers of students converted and bibles distributed, in truth I did feel that I needed to give an account. Which sometimes might include numbers.

These days, I told her, when it comes to seeing God at work, I’m taking a longer view. Like moving from the narrative arc of a Pixar short movie to epic full-length features. “I have no idea whether what I’m doing is successful or fruitful,” I confessed, “it’s really hard to take an account of that when you’re in the day-in and day-out of it with kids, and when you have no idea who reads your stuff and whether it makes any difference. So I’m aiming for faithfulness. To be kind today. To tell the truth today. To show my neighbor the gospel today, perhaps by taking their trash bin in or watching someone’s kids while they are at the doctor. That’s about all. I really wouldn’t have much to put in a monthly ministry newsletter.”

Friends, even to me this answer sounds a little like a cop-out: should I not be more strategic? intentional? make the most of every opportunity? Maybe. I have certainly trained others in ministry to be strategic in their goals over the years. But then again: I myself have been under the tutelage of the Happy Chicken.the ministry of the

Meet my Happy Chicken.

This hot water bottle was a gift from my sister nearly twenty years ago. I think it was a birthday present, but I can’t be sure. But I remember thinking it was hilarious. My sister and I had joked for years about a Far Side Cartoon in which a forlorn man sits on a bed while a chicken looks on from the window sill. The caption read: “the bluebird of happiness long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the chicken of depression.”

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Of COURSE when my sister saw the hot water bottle chicken, she had to have it. (She’s always been one excellent gift-giver.) And so, the chicken of depression made its way into my home. Within a few years, I was finding my way into ministry, and found an increasing number of people sitting on my couch sharing their stories with me. Some were very, very sad; and armed as I was my newly-minted-theological-education, sometimes I tried to help with comforting explanations. But as we all know, this was almost never the right thing to say or do. For even if the hurting person’s lips are asking why did this happen, their hearts are asking who will be with me in this? And so, slowly, I learned to shut up and listen. It became something of a formula: tears would spring up, and I would offer tea, a pair of socks, and the chicken… because it helps to have something warm to hold, and the kettle was boiled anyway. (It didn’t seem appropriate, somehow to tell people that this was the Chicken of Depression, after all.)serious_chicken_by_sandra_boynton_canvas_print-r1f5f44ee6a7b480d9bf43daad7546afa_wt7_8byvr_324

Over time, friends who got to know my chicken re-named it: the Happy Chicken. And years later, when I discovered the wonder of all things Sandra Boynton and met her happy chicken characters who bore a striking resemblance to mine, the name was formalized.

I think, in some in-my-bones kind of way, the Happy Chicken taught me that the simplicity of listening and welcome offers Christian comfort in a way that even my best theology does not. Jesus did teach many truths about God, and God had been speaking comforting, true words for a long, long time before that. But Jesus came. He sat in the mess. He touched the unlovely. He listened. He ate with people. He ate dinner with the heartbroken and received their tears without needing to fix it right there and then.

But still, sitting quietly while people weep and marriages end and children starve and girls are sold and refugees drown in the Mediterranean feels desperately ineffective. And despite the fact that the quiet ministry of neighbors has brought me comfort more times than I can count, I still occasionally panic and think I should be doing more. We should have a plan here. If, after all, I was still writing a hypothetical newsletter updating people on God’s activity in and through my life, what on earth what I say? And if all I had to say was “I made tea and introduced people to the Happy Chicken”, would it make God look bad? Or Christianity insipid?

517SjSiMdxLIt was this taproot of fear that made D.L. Mayfield’s new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith such a gift to me. Mayfield has such a writing gift: she crafts simple sentences with simple words—so easy to read—and yet the result is breathtaking. Reading her is like marveling at Leonardo daVinci’s finest work done on an etch-a-sketch.

But more than her beautiful writing, the message of this book spoke to me, and will speak to anyone who’s earnestly wanted to do great and beautiful things for God but then floundered when real life and messy relationships happened, making the monthly newsletter which was meant to sing of all God’s glory seemed so hard to write.

In a series of short, highly readable essays, Mayfield tells of her teenage zeal—holiday clubs! short term missions! seminary!—and her deep love for the displaced refugee communities in North America. And then she writes about what really happened next. She writes about failure: her awkward attempts to Jesus-ify conversations, and the skepticism with which her goodwill was sometimes (rightfully) regarded. She writes about the deep humbling of realizing people don’t change on our timeline or according to our well-intentioned western ways, and of learning that God has made something beautiful in every person and every culture – no matter how different and broken- and she tells of how, after all was said and done, she re-found (is re-finding!) faith in learning to sit and be a witness to all that God is doing, and to just love as she has an opportunity. She writes:

“I used to want to witness to people, to tell them the story of God in digestible pieces, to win them over to my side. But more and more I am hearing the still small voice calling me to be the witness. To live in proximity to pain and suffering and injustice instead of high-tailing it to a more calm and isolated life… To plant myself in a place where I am forced to confront the fact that my reality is not the reality of my neighbors. And to realize that nothing is how it should be, the ultimate true reality of what God’s dream for the world is.

Being a witness is harder than anything I have ever done. And he is asking all of us to do this task, to simultaneously see the realities of our broken world and testify to the truth that all is not well. To be a witness to the tragedy, to be a witness to the beauty. Jesus, the ultimate witness of the love of the Father heart of God, shows us the way…

He is asking us to drop everything and run, run in the direction of the world’s brokenness. And he is asking us to bring cake.”

He is asking us to bring cake. Mayfield’s love language is cake. And I’m thinking mine might be the Happy Chicken. Today I’m facing the broken world with eyes wide open and ears perked up. Who will God send my way today? I’m ready. The Happy Chicken and I are as ready as we can be.

 

Ask Me: How can I know if he’s the one? And are we too young to get married?

Am I too young to get married? How can I know if he's the one?

Dear Bronwyn,

My boyfriend and I are both 20, and have been dating for 4 years. We have been talking about getting married for a few months and I’m getting scared. I’m scared that he’s not the one for me because I don’t have that gut feeling and part of me is saying run away and that were both pretty young. I really want to be with him and wake up next to him. I’m worried I’m just in love with the idea of getting married and he’s convenient so I should just marry him. But we have a fuzzy electrical feeling when we kiss or touch and I don’t want to let that go. He says he knows I’m the one for him, but I just wish I had that feeling too. He’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a husband. I’ve prayed and asked God for a sign to let me know if hes the one for me. The first time He sent a shooting star. The second time I felt like He was telling me through particular songs that kept coming up on the radio. After that second time you would think “Okay, God, I get the message,” but I still can’t shake the gut feeling of wanting to run. Is that the devil at work? Does the Bible say anything about this? Please help.

From,

Dating but Doubting

Dear DbD,

I hear three questions in your letter: Are we too young to get married? How can I know if he’s the one? And, will God give me a sign that I’m making the right decision? I’ll try to touch on each of these:

Firstly, on the question of “how old is old enough to marry?”: A hundred years ago (and probably for centuries before that), a couple who were twenty and had been together for four years may well already have been married! It is a strange feature of our modern world that it has become normal to delay marriage for ten, even fifteen, years later than our ancestors did.

But there is still much to be said for marrying young. In her excellent article The Case for Getting Married Young, Karen Swallow Prior talks about the difference between seeing marriage as the cornerstone, rather than the capstone, of your adult life. I was one who married a little later, but am now in a position where I have a group of friends who are my age but many of them have been married ten years longer than we have (and have kids going to college already!!), because they married in their late teens and early twenties. When these friends of mine talk about their marriages, they talk about how they and their husbands had to grow up together: they figured out how to “adult” (as it now seems to be a verb) as a team… and they are the better for it.

But this is not the norm with most people in their early twenties. I hear more people talk about first wanting to reach certain career and financial milestones before thinking about marriage, and while this is the conventional wisdom of our age, I don’t think the Bible has anything to say about seeking first career and financial stability, and then marriage being added unto you. Certainly, those who delay marriage and land up making poor sexual choices as a result have not chosen well. (In fact, did you know that in the Westminster Catechism, in the discussion of ways in which the seventh commandment is infringed, they list “undue delay of marriage” as one? Qu 139 over here.)

The health and maturity of your relationship matters so much more than your age. I would encourage you to try to rely less on your feelings and more on the wisdom of your community in taking stock of whether you and your boyfriend’s relationship is healthy and mature enough to move towards marriage. Ask your parents, leaders around you at church, trusted friends, and people who have been married a while: ask them about their experiences, ask them what advice they’d have, and then ask them if they would help you to identify any red flags they might see: do you have patterns of co-dependency that you might not be aware of? how do you handle anger, disappointment, and conflicts of interest etc? Also, if you are seriously thinking about marriage, I would strongly encourage you to do pre-marital counseling. Take your time and take it seriously: pre-marital counseling doesn’t “solve” any issues up front, but it really does a lot to help you walk into marriage with your eyes wide open and your expectations adjusted towards reality. If you can—and this is gold—stay in relationship with those counselor’s and ask if you can check in with them every couple of months after you are married. That kind of mentoring makes the world of difference.

As to the question: “how can I know if he’s the one?” I’ve written about the idea of finding the “one” and how much we can trust the tingly feelings of dating chemistry here, so I won’t go into too much about that more. I do want to add this, though: that you are dating in a millennial climate where we all like to keep our options open, but the downside of that is that sometimes keeping all our options open means also watching them all go by without having taken any. The desire to optimize all our experiences—to find the best deal, or the perfect vacation destination,  or the dream school, or the perfect mate—leads us to the deluded belief that if we just do enough internet research, we will make the perfect decision and then life will be easy. But it is a delusion. And sometimes, wisdom says that we would be happiest if we picked the GOOD option and worked with that, rather than indefinitely delaying deciding because we’re waiting for the best.

I mention this just to express some sympathy for the cultural climate we live in: the fear we have of “making the wrong decision” and “settling for second best” is horribly amplified by the world around us; and it is undergirded by the false premise that the “best” decision (or “the one”) really is out there, and that if we would just find that one then we will all live happily ever after. But life is not like that, and no matter how wonderful you and your partner may be (or how long you wait), marriage is still one between sinners and you will have seasons of deep challenge and mutual refining… and in the process, grow together.

Now that’s not to say we should go to a dance and “take a partner by the hand and doh-se-doh into happily ever after” with the first available single guy. Obviously, we need more wisdom than that: finding someone who loves God, who loves you, with whom you can grow and serve together, and (I think this is a deal breaker), with whom you can laugh at both triumphs and disappointments, goes a long way towards making marriage smoother. You say in your letter “he’s everything I didn’t know I wanted in a husband.” I think that’s a really encouraging start 🙂

Finally: will God give me a sign so I can be sure? Probably not. Will he give you wisdom if you ask? Yes. Will he give you guidance as you prayerfully try to figure this out? Yes. Will he make the decision for you? Usually no. Not unless you’re Gideon. But take heart, dear friend: just because God hasn’t put an appendix at the back of the Bible with the list of who you will marry (wouldn’t that be a trip?) doesn’t mean he isn’t leading, guiding, and providing, or that he won’t work in good and amazing ways through this process of questioning you’re going through. If I think back on the discernment process through my own dating and deciding-to-marry relationships: I felt so unsure at the time, and really wished God would just TELL ME WHAT TO DO ALREADY, but as I look back I can see his faithfulness in answering every one of my prayers, for being with me through the breakups, and in landing up where I have. I have ever confidence He has no less than abundant plans for flourishing for you, too.

All the best,

Bronwyn

Got a question you want to send my way? You can ask me anything here…

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

It is no secret that it is Tim Fall’s fault encouragement that got me blogging. I always enjoy Tim’s words, and am delighted to welcome him here today with his usual blend of funny, warm and robustly encouraging insight.

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

Contrary to the impression I might have given with posts on running a 6 mile obstacle course and a half-marathon in the Happiest Place on Earth, I am not wont to join a few thousand strangers in order to traverse long distances in company.

But I did it again.

This time it was a 5K through a bunch of bounce houses. Three miles and a dozen inflatable obstacles made for a fun-run in the truest sense. It also made me feel like the folks in this verse:

They reeled and staggered like drunkards … . (Psalm 107:27.)

Tim Drunkard

Me reeling and staggering, but not falling down.

 

We signed up along with a bunch of people from the gym. As the day approached the young guy who owns the gym – and whom we looked to as our fearless leader for the race – went and blew his knee out and ended up having surgery.

That didn’t stop him from taking the course. He said he’d do it, and he did. And we did it with him. He couldn’t run so we all walked with him 3.1 miles from obstacle to obstacle. He hobbled through the obstacles along with the rest of us, laughing and joking around. It wasn’t the way the course was designed to be taken, perhaps, but it was the right way for us to go.

The Right Way to Go

Which reminds me of another verse:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Proverbs 18:24.)

This group of friends stuck together for the sake of the one who could not run full speed. It’s the same with the church, the people of God. We are called to come together, to be with one another, to love each other in the good times and the bad times. In fact, it’s this love for one another that shows people who we belong to.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

How can you love one another so that people will see you belong to Jesus? Good question, and one I hope you’ll help answer in a comment. For me it often means encouraging people. I don’t restrict this to fellow Christians, of course. Jesus’ love is something I can share with everyone God puts in my life.

When we love those outside the body of Christ, we do it without expectation of reciprocation. When we do it with each other, though, it should be a mutual care and love for one another. It is this bond of love – the back and forth, the give and take whether everyone can run at the same speed or not – that shows people who we are.

That’s what Jesus said.


Tim Fall pointsTim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 28 years with two grown kids, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook too.

 

 

When You Have FOMO, Even Though You Were There

 

FOMO

A few years ago, I was introduced to a little four-letter acronym that put a name to a feeling I was all too familiar with: FOMO. The Fear Of Missing Out.

Turned out, it wasn’t just me who felt a stab of sadness when there was a dinner I wasn’t invited to… even if it was a dinner I didn’t particularly want to attend, I still felt sad to not be invited. FOMO hits when friends I like hang out with each other without me. FOMO strikes when I see pictures on instagram of happy groups at the theater, at the park, on vacation. Finding out that FOMO had a name—that it was a thing‑made me take a harder look at this phenomenon, and why it is that I compare my messiest self with others’ glossiest online presence. The twin beasts of comparison and envy lurk close by, and as one friend recently said: Social Media is like Miracle-Gro for envy.

I recently got to attend a writers’ conference: a FEAST of a festival, with speakers and professionals and an abundance of online friends there in person. More than a few of my writer friends expressed their great sadness that they couldn’t go: “I’m going to have to stay off the internet for a week to keep the FOMO at bay,” wrote one. Wanting to be sensitive to those same feelings of loss that I experienced, I kept fairly quiet about the fact that I’d be attending. I didn’t live tweet each session. I didn’t post pictures of all the wonderful people I saw. FOMO is a thing, and I didn’t want to kindle it.

I got to go. I didn’t miss out. But here’s the thing: at the end of the first day I had a creeping sense of loss and sadness, and it took me a couple of hours to figure out what it was: my old nemesis FOMO, right there with me. After fifteen hours of constant interaction and input on that first day, I found myself strangely sad about all the conversations I hadn’t been able to finish, the people I hadn’t manage to connect with, the sessions I couldn’t attend because I was in a brilliant parallel session.

“How ungrateful you are”, I chided myself. “How ridiculous to have your whole day tainted by what you didn’t experience, rather than be amazed at what you did?” I spent some time before the second day began mentally preparing for the day ahead and taking my FOMO—now that I’d identified it—by the horns. I would aim to be present with the person right in front of me in conversation, to keep my eyes from flitting to the stream of people walking past behind them. I would take good notes in each session, and keep a record of the gems in front of me. I would keep my hands open, ready to receive every good gift that came my way, and ready to give generously if I had opportunity.

The second day was so much better, and the third better yet. The practice of being present and attentive to the graces before me is something my FOMO-bent heart needs all the time, for I am strangely capable of missing out on the good thing right in front of me just because I’m scared of missing out somewhere else.

I come home from the conference a little wiser about myself. I’m learning that the cure to FOMO is not to be found in being invited to all the things and attending all the events. It’s making sure I attend—with present, mindful, attention—to the place I am at. It’s not cured by physically showing up; for me it’s about emotionally and spiritually showing up in the conversation I’m having and the situation I’m in right now, without letting my heart and attention flit elsewhere.

Our Fear of Missing Out will not be cured by receiving more invitations. Rather, God is inviting me—and you—to attend to the good gifts right in front of us, for He Fears we’ll be Missing Out if we don’t.

 

Photo credit: Lilong Dolrani/ Lonely (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea using Canva.

 

 

 

 

That’s Not My Name

Please welcome Bobbie Schaeperkoetter to the blog!

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough. And maybe you have too.

Unworthy.  Unloveable.  Unattractive.  Selfish.  Spoiled.  Out of touch with reality.  Irresponsible.  Snob.  Untalented.  Liar.  Cheater.  Judgmental.  Failure.  I’ve been called these names and many more.  These, and others, are words that I’ve heard spoken about me nearly all of my life.  They are words of hurt and pain.  They are words that cut deep.  They are words that I’ve felt have left a scar on my poor tender heart.  Sometimes those words were spoken by others.  Sometimes I just felt them because of a person’s attitude of actions.  Most often though, the words that have cut me the deepest, are the words that I’ve spoken to myself.  The worst names are the ones I gave myself.

This isn’t the regular state of my heart, but I have been my own worst enemy at times.  I’ve doubted my heart, my worth, my skills, my actions, my looks, my motives, and my talents.  I’ve focused on my negative qualities far more than my positives.  I have let fear and doubt rule me for so much of my life.  I have I’ve stood in my own way far more than anyone else ever has.  I’ve let my past, my failures, my mistakes, and especially my sins define me for far too long.  I’ve been a slave to the names.  I’ve often felt locked in the prison of these words.  I’ve let myself believe them.  I have believed that I am unworthy and unloveable.  I have believed that I am a cheat and a liar and a failure. 

And for some reason, I’ve never fought back against those names.  Maybe I kept letting myself be defined by those names because a small part of me believed each one of them for one reason or another.  Maybe it is because no one knows me like I know myself.  No one knows every detail of my past and every struggle that I have walked through or every mistake that I have made.  But just maybe,  I have listened to the lies that the enemy has whispered into my ear for far too long.

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough.  And maybe you have too.

This morning, I woke up to a text from a dear friend who is in the middle of a very difficult situation.  She is feeling defeated.  She is feeling defined by her circumstances and her situation.  She is believing the names.  She is believing the names that others have called her, but most often, she is believing the names that she has called herself.  

And my heart broke for her.  And it broke a little for myself because I have done the same thing so often.

I have so many friends and family members who are in the middle of very difficult situations.  Some are there as a result of their own choices but some are just a victim of circumstance.  Regardless of how they got to where they are, many of them have one common bond.  They’ve let the names they have been called define them.  

They have believed the lies too.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their circumstances or their situation or their mistakes.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their sin or their faults or their failures.  They’ve believed the lies that they are what other people have said that they are.  They have let those names define them just like I have.

That is not the case for them, it is not the case for me, and it is not the case for you sweet friend. 

                I am not unworthy, unloveable, unattractive, or untalented.  That is not my name.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a Heavenly Father who specifically designed me for a purpose and with a plan.   (Psalm 139:13-14)

I am not a cheater, a liar, or a failure.  That’s not my name.  I am redeemed and forgiven.  I am a child of my Heavenly Father and I am loved beyond measure.  He has taken my past and nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 1:14, Colossians 2:13-14, John 3:16)

 I am not selfish, judgmental, out of touch with reality, spoiled, or a snob. That’s not my name.   I am learning to walk in newness of life.  I’ve laid aside my old self and have been given a new heart.  The road may be a little bumpy and I may fail sometimes, but my Father is patient and loving.  (Ephesians 4:20-32, Ezekiel 36:26)

I am not those names that others have called me.  I am not those names that I have called myself.  I am not those names that the enemy has whispered in my ear.  I am not defined by my past or even my current situation.  And neither are you.  If we are a follower of Jesus, then those names do not define us.  His name does.

We are defined by a God who loves us more than we can even begin to fathom.   We are named by the one who calls us chosen, loved, redeemed, beautiful, precious, forgiven, and new.  Let go of those old names and embrace the name that Jesus has given you.

 

bobbie schaeBobbie Schaeperkoetter makes her home in Jefferson City, Missouri, with her high school sweetheart-turned hubby and her two handsome boys. She is a wife, mom, homeschooler, the Director of Ministry and Creative Branding for The Women In My World, and a part of the The Genesis Project Development Group’s production team. Bobbie blogs at bobbieschae.com.  Her writing can also be found at Grace Centered at http://www.gracecentered.com/.  and at Faith Filled Family magazine  www.faithfilledfamily.com .  She would love you to stop by for a virtual cup of coffee and a chat.

A Hairy Confession

The sun has come out and the daffodils are peeking through. On Sunday morning, in the scrambled few minutes between “here’s your breakfast,” and “we’re late for church—WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES?”, I pulled on a short skirt. If the daffodils can come out, so can my knees: that seems as good a rule for seasonal dressing as any.

We were nearly at church when I looked down at my knees, highlighted just so by a shaft of sunlight coming through the car window. I squealed at my husband: Oh nooooooo! Look at my hairy legs! With a short skirt! I didn’t even think about that! I can’t even remember the last time I shaved. Better make sure I don’t stand in the sunlight too much.

My level-headed husband, not given to fussing about fashion at the best of times, looked across and assured me: Nobody is going to comment on your legs.

Well, dear reader, let me tell you this. Not fifteen minutes later, SOMEBODY COMMENTED ON MY LEGS. He was wrong.

But actually, so was I. Because the person who commented on my legs did not say “whoa! you should be wearing a hazard sign with those spikes out in public!” In fact, she said, “have you been working out? Your legs look good.” I gaped at her fish-faced. I did not see that coming.

These are not my legs. They belong to Celine Dion. But you'll agree that these legs are GORGEOUS, aren't they? Even though the picture is... fuzzy.

These are not my legs. They belong to Celine Dion. But you’ll agree that these legs are GORGEOUS, aren’t they? Even though the picture is… fuzzy.

My legs were not the only prickly things I brought to church on Sunday. I brought prickly attitudes, sharp opinions, unkempt fears and a whole lot more, and these too went unnoticed by those who were there. Instead, we sang in worship and talked about what it means to be poor in spirit, a quality describes as “blessed” by Jesus.

Here is the truth: I would prefer to come to church all put together, both on the inside and the outside. I would prefer to be less confused, less hurt, less prideful. I would prefer to be less prickly, both in my heart and on my skin. I sometimes hope that the sun (and the Son) won’t highlight these areas of deficiency, otherwise others may notice.

But this is also the truth: my focus is all too often myopic and self-centered. I need others to help me see myself more clearly: to help me see the big picture, to put things in perspective, to trust in the healing work of community and the slow progress of redemption. Being aware of my shortfalls (even if they are as superficial as hairy legs: I concede this is utter vanity) is actually a GOOD thing when we gather as God’s people: it’s one step closer to humility. Sometimes it’s a good thing to come to church with prickly legs, or in the middle of heartbreak, or while you’re fighting with your loved ones, or right after you lost your temper and you haven’t quite been able to recollect your calm face. Maybe people will see our prickles. Maybe the light will highlight the crisis. But maybe… just maybe, our focus will be redirected. We’ll be humbled, and in that moment, find grace.

For those who think they have it all together have no need for Jesus, now do they?